September was whirlwind. First my buddy and I started off with a dove hunt at Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife area. For the first time in several years, we were able to draw a permit for September 4th. It would have been great to draw on the first two days, but this was going to be the second time this set of fields had been hunted this season. We were excited after seeing the kill sheets and had a great plan in place to get one of the locations that had limited out on September 2nd. Field six had everything you could want for dove hunting. They had a filed of wheat which had been harvested and then burned. A sunflower field, corn field and even a field of alfalfa.
Now I am not always very lucky, so we had a choice of one ball or two since we were both on the permit. We chose two to help with our odds and we were hoping this would give us a good chance to be out of the hat in the first ten draws.
The drawing began at ten and the first couple of numbers were read off. Of course, the first group took the first two flags we wanted and as they continued to draw the first four out of hat all took a spot that I was wanted to go. I looked at my buddy Al and said, “we better draw soon, or we will be sitting in no man’s land”. Sure enough, the next number called was 37 and that happened to be Al’s number. We were excited to say the least. We were able to grab a couple of good stakes, so we left the drawing and headed for the field. We couldn’t shoot for a couple of more hours, but I wanted to get some footage for the TV Show and be ready for the first flight of doves when they arrived.
We picked a couple of flags that were almost the farthest walk from the parking lot. As we made our way across the burnt wheat field, we continually were kicking doves out of the field. Our excitement grew even more. We set up our dove decoys and Al had a spinning wing dove he set out and then it was time to wait.
One thing that surprised me was we were in the field over an hour before we even saw one person in the parking lot. We continued to watch the doves fly all over the field just waiting for noon so we could start flinging steel. As noon arrived there was probably only half the people in the field, and I asked the gentlemen behind me if this was normal. He stated that a lot of the locals who hunt here will draw in and go home for a couple of hours and then hit the field and 3pm – 5pm. One thing that was nice is if someone wasn’t at their stake by 3pm you could take that spot if you like. When someone would kill out and leave you could just move to that location. In other state areas that I have hunted that was not the case.
As noon hit the dial, the shots started ringing out, and of course all of the shooting was coming from a couple of the stakes that went first on the draw. There was a man and woman hunting those two stakes and it was her first ever dove hunt. They shot pretty consistently for the first couple of hours and then I noticed them walk out. I figured they had their limit, but when I checked the kill sheets it said he had harvested one and she harvest none. I was quite surprised. I asked someone if they knew why they left and they said yes. They came with three boxes of shells and ran out.
As the day progressed, I was getting a little discouraged. It was now 2pm and I hadn’t fired a shot. I watched the gentlemen across from me shoot several doves and all I could do was wish it was me. Finally, around three I had my first shot and of course I would miss. Unfortunately, that would be my only real chance on the day. We literally saw doves most of the day, but one thing was for sure is they figured out where was safe and where it was not safe. They would come over the corn fields and run right down the middle of the fields. Most shots that were taken from others were 45 – 55 yards out and not an easy harvest. We watched as many would empty their guns, and right on down the line the dove went with shot after shot going by him. Then he would escape out of the field and no less for the ware.
On the bright side I did get to watch a couple of guys who could really shoot. The gentlemen across the field from me was sitting on the corner of a corn and sunflower field and those seem to be the only locations that were consistently producing decent shots. The guy across from me ended with ten birds and he only shot 18 times. That’s a pretty good average!
One thing I have to say is the people who work at Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area really know how to put together some great dove fields. They are consistently in the top three of the state, and when you are there, you see why. Their fields are pristine. They really take their setup to a different level than any other state site I have hunted. I did ask them why their setup seem to be so much better than other state sites and he said they follow the Missouri Department of Conservation Dove Program. I’m thinking every site should follow in their footsteps as much as they can. It does help the park is 16,500 acres. I just wish there was more opportunities like this for Illinois hunters.
Well, my dove hunting didn’t go as planned. I wasn’t able to shoot a tv show with no footage of harvest, so I thought to myself, next weekend is opening of teal season maybe I will get lucky, and our club will have a few teal.
As the weekend neared, I took a drive down to our duck club to see what the conditions were and if we had any teal. I didn’t see any teal at the club, but as grown up as everything was, I am not sure you could see them. I set up a plan for opening day of teal and called my friends to see who was in for anther adventure. Of course, Tim and Al are always up for a duck hunt so we decided we would duck hunt in the morning and finish putting in the food plots in the afternoon.
Opening morning arrives and we set out for the duck grounds. When we arrive to the spot that I wanted to hunt there was no water. I was confused. There has been water there for two years, now all of the sudden it was gone. One of our valve tubes was closed so it really didn’t have a way to escape. We walked about 50 yards until we found the water. Tim, Al, Cocoa, and I set up the decoys and were ready for the teal to arrive.
About 15 minutes before shooting time the wood ducks started to leave the grounds. Last year we had hundreds of woodies around at this time, but this year we only saw 40-50 wood ducks. We still have a long time before the opener at the end of October, but we usually hold a fair amount of wood ducks all summer.
As shooting time arrived, we continue to watch a few woodies, mallards, gadwall, and some divers flying over the duck ground but no teal early on. It was probably about 5 minutes into shooting time when the first shot rang out across the river. Usually, the river will shoot them for an hour or so and then they tend to make it our way once they get sick of dodging steel over there.
We were sitting there and all of the sudden three teal buzz our heads and are long gone before we could even put our hands on our guns. As the day progressed, we saw a couple of groups of three flying around but they were all going to the same place, and unfortunately, I can no longer hunt there so we just had to watch. All together we saw about 2 dozen teal but nothing that was close except for the three that buzzed our heads. I wasn’t discouraged, actually I was encouraged that there were at least a few teal around. After a few hours of teal hunting, we decided it was time to finish up our food plots.
Over the last couple of years, we have struggled to get our food plots in. Where we hunt is a very low-lying area, and when the beavers take over, we end up with a swamp that covers 75 acres. This makes it difficult to get in with our equipment to get the ground worked or even get the weeds killed off. This last winter we had a nice young trapper come in and he did an excellent job of getting rid of the beavers. He didn’t believe me when I told him there were 33 beavers taken out of there over a two-year period. He looked at me like I was nuts but in the end, he realized we have a beaver heaven. If I remember correctly, he took another 13 out of there in a short amount of time last winter. After he finished, we were able to get a small backhoe in there to remove the dams. This allowed our grounds to dry this spring and summer better than it has in ten years.
Two weeks before, our friend had sprayed all of the food plots, so it was time for us to cast our seed and mow the dead grass. We have about three acres total of food plots, so this was going to take awhile to broadcast the seed and for us to get it all mowed with our little tractor. Luckily, we had a beautiful fall like day to get this all accomplished. After about six hours of work, we had all our food plots planted and mowed and all we needed now was some rain and sunshine.
When we finished the food plots, we decided we should come teal hunting on Sunday and go to one of our blinds to hunt a couple of hours and do some maintenance on the blind to get ready for the opener at the end of October. One of the reasons we fought so hard to get the food plots down was they were calling for a good amount of rain on Sunday. We thought going to our blind would help us stay out of the rain and if there were no birds, we could just get the blind ready.
As Sunday rolled around it was just going to be me and my friend Al. Everyone else had other plans so it was just going to be the dynamic duo at it again. We arrived Sunday morning to a very dark ominous sky. I looked at Al and said, “Is this going to be another one of these crazy adventures that we regret in a couple of hours?” We chuckled and loaded the four-wheeler, then headed to the duck grounds. When we stopped to unload, we could hear the rain on the other side of the grounds, just pouring. We looked at each other and were like we made it this far, we are not turning around now. As we walked to the blind, I noticed there was not much water again. We were on the other side of the duck grounds from where we were before. This was usually the deepest area we have and if there is water at one end then there should be six inches to a foot at the other. As we continued to get closer to the blind, my big butt was getting tired and soaked. Between the rain, waders, and being out of shape, I was not having a good morning. I told Al to go ahead and see if there is water by our blind. A few minutes later I hear, “Don’t come over here this mud is not good”. I don’t think I have ever heard Al say that but one other time, and we were waist deep in the smelliest mud in North Dakota a few years ago. I yelled out, “I am out heading back to the truck”. For once he actually agreed. So we headed back to the truck defeated, wet, muddy and down right cranky. My dads favorite saying was, “You are the master of disaster”. I hear it every time I screw something up.
If you are local to the Central Illinois area, check out Adventure Sports Outdoors TV Show as I have been hosting the last couple of months and I am looking forward to bringing you a duck hunting show from North Dakota at the end of the month. The date and time of the show is on the bottom of the front cover for reminder.
Until next month. May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!